The Barista, The Ad Agencies and Social Business

"Starbucks Coffee"An Adweek article with the engage-y title, “Why The Average Starbucks Barista Gets More Training Than Ad Agency Staffers” caught my attention a few days ago. It had a cool infographic attached and referenced a new Arnold study on the lack of Ad Agency training, but it really wasn’t about why the average Starbucks Barista gets more training than an Ad Agency staffer….it was really a comparison between  the types of training, the time spent on training and the amount of money spent on training at Starbucks versus Ad Agencies: Starbucks more, Ad Agencies less.

The answer to “Why the Starbucks Barista gets more training than an agency staffer” is a totally different topic but one that is very relevant to another question that I have been asking lately: Why are so many Brand marketers outsourcing their social media to their Advertising and PR agencies? I have heard the many reasons: we don’t have time, we don’t have staff, it’s less expensive to have them do it. But, the flip side of that is: How important is Social Media to your Brand?

The Social Landscape 2011

Jeremiah Owyang wrote recently that as we look backwards from 2011 and see that business blogging became social media marketing which became social media and has now evolved (or matured) into social business, it is easy to forget that the social space is young and that most large corporations are just now beginning to commit resources to social media programs. Most companies in a recent Altimeter Group study have only had “formalized” social media programs for 2 1/2 years.

"Social Media Programs in Corporations"

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, companies that are at the forefront of social adoption according to another Altimeter Report are not relying on traditional advertising agencies but Social Media Boutiques even though Ad Agencies are frequently the first resource corporations use…presumably because their ad agencies are standing right next to them assuring them of the expertise in social media.

One other important finding: Even the corporations most advanced in social business who are investing in social media staffing are underspending  on training. And this, in my opinion, is a critical weakness, whether a corporation is outsourcing to their ad agencies, hiring social media boutiques or consultants, or hiring internal staff.

Brands, If you don’t understand the social space yourself, how will you evaluate the quality of your social media, your social media advisers and partners and the recommendations that they make. And worse still than ineffectual social media are social media mistakes made by those under skilled in social media competencies.

Transformation 2011

The inspiration for Adweek’s caffeinated riff on Agency training was a study presented by Andrew Benett CEO at Arnold Worldwide, the Transforming Talent Management Survey, at a recent 4 A’s conference with the title, Transformation 2011.  The only thing I know for sure about the conference is what I read and listened to online so correct me if I am missing something but it seemed to me that for a conference entitled Transformation 2011 the opening remarks sounded a lot like Denial 2011 or maybe Party Like Its 1999: “Our industry is back”…everyone watched the Superbowl (albeit passing reference to status updates) and the recession is over and now everything will be back to the way it was.

Except, it won’t.  The recession may be over but technology isn’t…technology is driving shifts in the delivery of news, entertainment and advertising and as venues change, content changes and so must the skills of the content creators, the  so called “talent”.

Mr. Benett stated that the Advertising Agency industry is in a talent crisis. Contrary to the Adweek article, Mr. Benett’s presentation was not about why the average Starbucks Barista gets more training than an Ad Agency staffer. Mr. Bennet’s presentation was about why no one wants to work in the Advertising industry. His Barista reference was an offhand, condescending comment;  but maybe Starbucks should actually  have been included on their short list of companies in their study. Maybe his comment should have been that he was going to use the Barista Principle as the standard for transforming agency management.

Howard Schultz developed the Starbucks culture based upon nurturing employee relationships and recognizing that a motivated, content workforce that was passionate about the Starbucks Brand experience would communicate that message to customers. Money was invested in employee benefits and training versus advertising. As Starbuck experts, John Moore wrote, “Starbucks spends its advertising dollars on making better products and better customer experiences and not on making funnier television commercials.”

Starbucks continues, year after year,  to excel in all of the measurements Mr. Benett mentions that the Advertising Industry is currently failing at: Attracting, retaining and developing talent. The use of the word “talent” kind of sums up the problem. Maybe it’s just me, but it creates a visual of  an anchorman who reads the news versus the Barista who creates the experience.

Listening to Mr. Benett speak, about their survey, their “talent crisis” and their recommendations for transformation made me understand not only why there was a “talent crisis” but also why advertising agencies don’t get social media: It’s a culture issue driven by a business model. Social media is about people, building relationships…about connection and two way dialogue.  Advertising is about selling, campaigns and one way communication. The “talent crisis” seems to be all about disconnection and the solutions sound like a broadcast or re-boadcast of a lot of disconnected thoughts: Talent Crisis, The Ad Campaign.

First of all, they conducted their “expansive talent study” using what they referred to as “talent centric” organizations as benchmarks. Arnold interviewed companies that Benett refers to as “talent centric organizations” e.g. Goldman Sachs, Mackenzie, P&G, Google,  as a baseline for comparison to Ad Agencies. They didn’t interview anyone at Starbucks. Mr. Benett’s  first comment was telling; he said the issue of talent management critical  to the advertising industry and then he observed that the room was not full and noted that perhaps this indicated that only 1/3 of the industry cared about the issue. Transformation is a tall order without senior management interest and commitment isn’t it?

Second of all, although I am  not exactly sure what led them to conduct this study other than that they decided that were not “talent magnets.”  I am even less sure as to why they included Goldman Sachs. However, it seems to me that what was lacking in both Mr. Benett’s presentation and his slides was the vision thing….apparently the current organization/industry make up (the talent) is not meeting the Agencies/industry strategic needs? Thus at the end of the transformation what will the organization look like? Is the crisis that the you are not a “talent magnet” or is the crisis that the talents that ad agency people will need in the future (now) need to be defined so that the transformation has direction.

For Advertising agencies, the product is the advertising which is created by “the talent”….Agencies invest in hiring talent. Mr Benett notes that talent is the Ad industries #1 asset but points out that the talent feels it is underpaid, untrained, and uninformed.  The funny thing? A visit to the Arnold website and the headline is Jack Daniel’s Appoints Arnold to Create Global Social Media Campaign which obviously reinforced to me my opinion that Ad Agencies view social media as another advertising channel but a visit to the people page or the Agency life page and wow, the talent sure doesn’t seem like they feel underpaid, untrained and uninformed. Which I  guess is the good news for the power of advertising and the bad news for honesty, transparency and those other social values.

As memory serves, (I was “trained” in Brand Management then moved to the Agency world; later as a freelance consultant was frequently hired by Ad Agencies to provide the “strategic” component that they lacked for client assignments or new business pitches, pre social media) Ad agencies never placed much emphasis on developing talent, training, employee benefits or relationships. At entry levels and even at mid levels the pay, benefits, and training were better on the Client side.  And in a pre-social world it wasn’t such a problem. Ad Agencies created advertising not relationships. They created Brands certainly, but not Brand experience.

Then quietly, social media walked in; blogs, Facebook and Twitter first ignored, then disdained and finally discovered by Ad Agencies who then started slinging the jargon as loudly a possible without taking much time to understand…. “OK, here’s the concept, the cat will write the blog…..” Oh yeah! (True story). But, the blog writing cat was advertising content, not social media content. And good social media content demands different skill sets and different talents than advertising content and the social world is constantly evolving so that training and development need to be built into employee relationships.

The Barista Principle

We’ve all heard the story of Howard’s Schultz’s trip to Italy where he was inspired by the ambiance of Italian coffee bars and the role of the Barista in nurturing the customer experience. Schultz turned a commodity product into a billion dollar Branded experience by creating a company culture that is relationship centric and this relationship begins with its employees… Starbucks core values emphasize keeping employees motivated and empowered because their connection to the customer creates the Brand experience. Baristas receive training in customer service as well as in coffee and learn how to connect with customers.

Ranjay Gulati, Sarah Huffman, and Gary Neilson wrote about the Barista principle in a 2002 study stating that Starbucks exemplifies the model of a relationship-centric organization building relationships with 4 constituencies: customers, suppliers, alliance partners and their own employees. “These relationships are so valuable that they should be considered a core asset of a firm. We call this asset “relationship capital” and define it as the value of a firm’s network of relationships with its customers, suppliers, alliance partners and employees.”

Now, as we also know Starbucks was slow to social media adoption even though the Barista Principle and Peter Kim’s definition of Social Business Design have a lot in common. Social Business Design: is the intentional creation of dynamic and socially calibrated systems, process, and culture. Its goal: helping organizations improve value exchange among constituents.

So, why are Starbucks Baristas trained better than an agency staffer? Because Starbucks places a high value on relationships and Agencies do not. And in 2011, as the Barista is dismissed by Mr. Benett as a coffee shop employee, and social media has evolved into social business while the transformative 5 big ideas are:

  • recruit on college campuses
  • promote cross training
  • incentives such as relocation,
  • engage employees in “the conversation.”

These are all nice things but will they make the Ad Industry talent magnets by simply catching up with their talent competitors. Case in point, I happened to notice while looking at their website that Arnold is recruiting for summer interns but not offering compensation. And they wonder why Goldman Sachs and P&G are Talent Magnets on campus and they are not. And missing (and dismissing)  the value of the Starbucks Barista make me wonder what Mr. Benett means by “conversation” .

So, in 2011 Social Media has definitely “arrived” for most, but those who don’t take the time to understand it and its value are underestimating its power. As Jeremiah noted, business blogging became social media which is now social business, at least for those who realize that soon it will just be business. David Armano has a post up today titled Campaigns and Ecosystems which was a reaction to an article critical of social media agencies.

David writes: “But the businesses which succeed in the long run (and the CEO’s driving them), understand that it’s the coordination of a good product and service, combined with an integration of ecosystems, support and marketing initiatives which will result in long term value for not ony customers but all stakeholders.” I agree. I think the Starbucks Barista would agree. I singled out ad agencies; others point at social media agencies, social media consultants point at each other. It’s not about which discipline “gets it” best, it’s about getting it yourself, for your Brand, and then bringing in the relevant advisers and agencies and staff.

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BUT What Will I Do With My OLD iPad??

I wrote recently about cutting the cord , i.e. canceling cable TV and watching TV programming online and “over the air.”  We did it in December and for me, so far so good. I haven’t decided whether its better…it probably isn’t. But then again, it’s not worse. It’s just different.

My 18 year old son, Sam, whose day begins and ends with Sports Center is not even close to liking it. His tolerance for this kind of trial and error is low…he can’t conceptualize that since you can turn something on (the TV) and press a button (on the remote) and have the wide world of sports (and everything else)  at your fingertips, why anyone would want to add extra steps (e.g. connecting an AppleTV, pressing HDMI2 and then Netflix) even to try. This resistance to extra steps (inertia?) is probably not atypical which is why cord cutting, despite the headlines and predictions about the immediate  death of cable are overstated.

Overstated yes, but cable TV is old media and the old media model is dying…..TV is not dying (in my opinion, its actually improved), magazines, newspapers are not dying, but the distribution model, the business model is on life support. Scott Karp does a great job explaining the disruption of the news syndication model…he mentions the distribution of news on social networks, the growing importance of social curation in content distribution vs search (though search is not at all even in the doctor’s waiting room, much less on life support and social is not separate from search) and the impact of free web content.

This is not just what is disrupting the news syndication model….it is what has disrupted media period. Let’s go back to the dawn of social….publishing platforms, web 2.0, Cluetrain; so really not so long ago in real time (2003:O’Reilly Web 2.0 Media Conference) and here we are today with Twitter, Facebook, Netflix. Follow me, friend me, check in, streaming live are part of the daily vernacular of #everyoneweknow#everyonewearerelatedto based upon media businesses that didn’t exist a few minutes ago. And all of the accompanying shifts in ownership, layoffs, chapter 11′s and so on in publishing and broadcast media businesses and the mad scrambling to effectively integrate the old with the new which is in the end, all about control.

And cutting the cord is one part of this disruption….I was spending over $70 a month for a “bundle” that defied logical explanation or understanding from a  cable company that only delivers their high quality customer service on Twitter and whose annoying advertising campaign that depict people who love watching TV as an endangered species are reason enough to cut the cord. Now the consumer benefit in those spots is where?  The issue, cable company, is delivering value to customers who have lots of content choices unless there really are enough couch potatoes longing for the good old analog days.

So, was there a seminal moment when media changed for good? April 2010, the iPad. The iPad brought it all together. One year ago it was not together. It was all over the desk top and the laptop and the mobile device and there were user experiences and user interfaces. With the iPad there is user experience and user interface. One year and over 9MM iPads and 40,000 Apps.

According to the Donald J Reynolds Institute at the University of Missouri School of Journalism (Sam Richmond will be a freshman there this fall I am proud to report) the quality of the user experience, the ease of the user interface, and the pricing of Apps and content are the reasons that users are spending quality time on their iPads. For the inertia demographic who need the seamless experience and who have $500, iPad is a life changer.

So back to the issue underlying Sam’s resistance to ending cable: too many steps for an unknown reward?  Well, he already has a PS3 that is connected to his TV for games. One little thumb nudge and he gets Netflix, HuluPlus, MLB.Live, movies and TV shows on demand. Ah, ESPN is not there. Life will not be perfect until then….if cable can control live sports distribution they are still in the game.

Now, it is March 2011 and in a few days iPad2 will be available. It will have a camera (important!), it will be lighter (not so important), and according to the New York Times (but really DARRELL ETHERINGTON of GigaOm) the killer feature is HD mirroring which he explains means that one can stream content from Netflix, Hulu Plus etc directly to a TV with an HDMI cord and adaptor without the need for the $99 AppleTV that you might have just purchased (the one that you can not stream HuluPlus on). I am sure there is more.

So, this leads to my conundrum…like Marshall Kirkpatrick who wrote last year that he was going to get an iPad right away. He said life is short and he felt he had missed out by waiting to get an iPhone and wanted to begin enjoying an iPad as soon as possible. I felt the same way…and right now I am waiting to get the new iPhone this summer. First I was waiting for Verizon, now the new iPhone…my contract has been up for a year. But the iPad2? I LOVE my iPad. I am sure the iPad2 is better. But my iPad is still shiny and new and I still find new things to do on it….sigh.

 

 

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Merry Christmas 2010!

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Cavaet Emptor Yes, But Wait There’s More…

CavaetEmptorButWaittheresMoreThe recent story in the NYT about the latest PT Barnum (although ironically enough this history buff says that we can’t even believe that story)  of the internets and his evil linking strategy has been a hot topic since Sunday. The issues of What Should Google Do and Flipping Off the Consumer for Fun and Profit have been well covered by Jeff Jarvis and Chris Carfi, respectively (Chris, love your visual analysis).

Chris and Jeff both invoke caveat emptor. Jeff refers to his Dell Hell experience and says he kicked himself after he began having problems with his Dell computer for not searching the web for “dell sucks” before he made his purchase. Valeria Maltoni also suggests that consumers take some responsibility and read before they buy although she provides an additional cavaet for the emptors: all reviews are not accurate.

Well, I wholeheartedly agree with Jeff, Chris and Valeria. There is more than enough information available to evaluate our purchases. In fact, there has been an exponential increase in available data points…we have come a long way, baby, from having only  Consumer Reports,  the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, 60 Minutes (or @60minutes as it were) and our next door neighbors to warn us about the obviously unscrupulous.

Now, we have Yelp, Amazon, our new friends and followers from Facebook and Twitter, iPhone Apps and yes, Google. We have at our finger tips megabytes of information to be totally informed consumers. On the surface, we should be forewarned and forearmed on every purchase we make.

But then, why is it that there are probably few amongst us who have not been flipped off? Why is it that no matter how savvy and diligent that we are, we still get sucked down the rabbit hole? And after we are sucked, where is the lifeline?…that there customer service thang that we are always reading about and writing about as being so important to business today? Oh and if that doesn’t work, well we have the government to protect us: The bright new shiny Consumer Credit Protection Act.

Raise your hand if you did not or if you even know someone who did not get a letter from at least one bank or credit card issuer either arbitrarily raising interest rates, lowering credit lines or summarily closing an account before the law went into effect that made it slightly more difficult to do or is not now, post “protection” paying higher fees on something than they were before they were protected? And why do we let our government endanger us and call it protection while they protect the banks at our expense. How 1984 doublespeak like.

And then we have those who would like us to believe that the financial crisis was caused by the Community Reinvestment Act that made banks loan money to deadbeats. Yes, and if you believe that, I have some Moody’s rated collateralized debt obligations I would like to show you.

Oh yes, loans were certainly made to people who couldn’t afford them but that was just the beginning of the journey for those loans. Barry Ritholz wrote recently of the  latest revelations in this mess, “the hiring of untrained, incompetent burger flippers to act as lawyers or paralegals in the processing of foreclosures:” Criminal and flagrantly illegal activities that represented “a degree of recklessness previously unseen in American jurisprudence.”

OK, but why do we not exercise caution? On one hand we have the theory of  Irrational Predictability. Dan Ariely, a behavioral  economist,  says that we simply are not logical, sensible and rational decision makers. We overpay, overvalue, underestimate and are consistent only in the fact that we consistently make the same mistakes over and over again. We are just wired that way. And that is why for instance, he says advertisers package products for us to try into silver, gold and platinum “specials.”Entice and distract us emotionally so that we turn off logic and reason? We gain meaning from being Platinum Kind of People, and the ultimate purchase decision has little to do with the price of the actual product itself. And that is of course why we don’t always use caution when we see something that we want or need to buy. And yes, “they” know that about us….salespeople, financial advisers, politicians, real estate agents, honest and dishonest.

As Antonio Damasio explains it, we make decisions using a combination of cognitive and emotional processes; emotions are in fact essential to rational thinking. Even better maybe….the thought of ourselves behind the wheel of the new BMW makes us feel so awesome that our brain works out an algorithm that makes it financially possible.

Or, the feeling of being obscenely rich created an algorithm that allowed the unsuspecting previously un-credit worthy to purchase the proverbial swampland, re-appraised as a suburban cul-de-sac, from snake oil salespeople, who got approval for sub-prime loans that they mostly defaulted on that became packages of AAA rated bonds sold as Collateral Debt Obligations (CDO), and then created synthetic CDOs insured through Credit Default Swap contracts (CDS) which ultimately led to the near collapse of the US and global economy that apparently could not have been foreseen or prevented in any way by the regulatory agencies, elected officials, watchdogs, congressional committees, pundits or any other reasonably intelligent person who you would expect to know that an algorithm that is built upon adjustable rate mortgage loans to sub prime borrowers just doesn’t seem, well, rational does it? They all see it pretty clearly now from exactly the same vantage point. When we speak of cavaet emptor and being an informed customer don’t forget to include your congressperson, senator, mayor, governor, or circuit court judge. The same advice that goes for “submit order” applies to “submit vote.”

I have to confess, that like Jeff Jarvis I purchased  a laptop without due diligence (In fact, in support of Dan Arierly’s repetitive  irrationality theory, I inexplicably did it twice before I learned the lesson to only buy MACS). After the problems started with the HP laptop and reasonable efforts on our part to get them resolved failed, a Google search that should have been done before the purchase, revealed that our failed motherboard was not our isolated problem despite efforts on the part of HP to convince us that it was, but was a big deal system wide motherboard problem.Whoops! Cavaet Emptor? Yeppers! But I had no reason not to trust HP (ignorance is bliss) or to believe that they would not take responsibility for fixing their defective product. And I bought it at a Best Buy for my son who picked it out from an array of shiny new laptops….it was like the puppy in the window, there was no way we were going to leave without it. Which is of course the reason that they are displayed that way.

I blogged about it. Toby Bloomberg blogged about it. And yes, it was social media, not all of the calls to customer service and tech support that got the problem fixed. It seems that HP has a person whose title is something like “customer advocate” (I don’t recall his exact title) who calls and fixes “public”{public relations} problems once they escalate to that point. By the time he called, all I wanted was my money back and I have not purchased an HP product since.

Which leads me to this point: Yes, I agree, customers need to accept some responsibility in situations as described in the NYTimes article. Before we buy something from someone we need to do some online research, aka at least type their name or the product name into Google. That isn’t always enough protection but it is a step in the right direction.  However, when you read what Borker was up to, you can see that he was a pretty informed scammer. He was a boyscout on Amazon because they wouldn’t allow him to sell if he was not. Lesson: Buy from Amazon.

The lesson regarding Ebay was perhaps not as clear as with Amazon since Borker apparently has figured out how to game the Ebay system by registering under different names and using feedback blackmail tactics. However, Ebay is a great example of an online ecosystem that for the most part works for buyers and sellers with a little due diligence. The feedback ratings are there to be reviewed and if you buy from someone with negative ratings and/or a “short” history you are taking a risk.  The same holds true for buyer ratings….if you sell to someone who has been a member since yesterday and has no transaction history then you are taking a risk that they will not complete the sale. I speak from experience on that one, but I have been a cautious seller ever since. Ebay and PayPal will protect you from unscrupulous buyers and sellers but they have a process and the process can be slow.

So back to the question: How come we continue to get taken? Borker, Madoff, the laptop, the appliance repair service, the lifetime guarantee, and so on. Well, because we are human….our decision process is guided by our minds and our hearts.

Why does being diligent seem so much like a full time job? Shouldn’t we just be able to buy something we want or need without launching an investigation? And if the pre-purchase investigation fails to uncover a problem, why do we then discover that the warranty isn’t exactly what it seemed to be or that customer service speaks English as a second language and is only available from 11AM-11:10AM and that you have to send the product to tech support in California because of your specific problem versus the in-store repair that you were expecting.

Legal remedies? Unaffordable.  The court of public opinion can be more effective and certainly less expensive…and as in the case of Dell Hell and Jeff Jarvis the story had a happy ending for both. Being an informed consumer can prevent problems but sometimes being your own advocate is necessary. Social media enabled advocacy either through a single Tweet, a video ,a Facebook wall post or an entire blog post can frequently help resolve an issue.

Yet the issue of the legal system relates back to the issue of being an informed voter. We elect our lawmakers who appoint regulators and in some states, 39 states actually, we elect the judges who interpret the laws. Other places and other levels, they are appointed by our elected officials. In some cases judges decide who has won an election. In Missouri we have something called the Missouri Plan which is explained here in more specifics but essentially calls for the appointment of judges by a non-partisan panel. The judges are then subject to what is called retention elections….a judges name appears upon a ballot and voters can either vote to retain a judge or not to retain the judge, majority rules. The problem is, voters don’t really know anything about the judges unless they or someone they know has appeared before them and most voters simply vote for retention.

This can be a problem and is a problem with one judge in St. Louis County, Judy Draper. The Missouri Bar voted to recommend that Judy Draper not be retained. In 2006 73% 0f attorneys surveyed recommended that she not be retained. Although she received notably fewer votes for retention than other judges, she was retained. Speaking from up close and personal experience with Judy Draper, it is my opinion that it is a travesty that she has not been removed from the bench for incompetence…incompetence that has caused my family great harm. If she were employed in most other professions I am confident that she would have been dismissed for her conduct only in our case, let alone what she has probably wrought for other families. And if not for the fact that she is  protected by judicial immunity she would be subject to legal actions. As it stands though, unaware and apathetic voters returned her to the bench. Again, cavaet emptor, voters of St. Louis County from the Missouri Bar and Marianne Richmond.

So, Google is not responsible for gamers and abusers….Google does at the end of the day provide the path to uncover the negative. We simply have to take the time for due diligence. However, there are still bad people out there trying to game our predictably irrational selves. We need to do our homework and reward those we trust, the good citizens of the internet and the planet, with our business, our votes and our positive feedback. And the bad citizens of the planet? Throw the bums out, don’t retain them, leave honest feedback for others.

Chris Carfi ended his post in reference to David Segals story,” It is, at its core, a contemporary story of good versus evil, updated just in time for the holiday shopping season.” I agree. Be careful!

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Mid-Term Elections 2010: Everyone is on Facebook So Stop Phoning

For those of us who have been involved with social media for a number of years, it seems lately like everything social that we have been talking about over the past several years has simply happened overnight. Not only is everyone’s mother on Facebook, everyone’s grandmother is on Facebook and  companies large and small have stopped debating “should we” and are now evaluating “how fast can we.” The latter will be another post. This one is about the recently completed mid term election campaign…the OMG when will it be over mid term elections of 2010.

Every talk show host, politician, and local anchor seems to be “on” Twitter.  Many awkwardly encourage their audiences and viewers to follow them, friend them or visit them in the merry old land of social as if they are not convinced themselves that the place is real. But, just when it seems as if broadcast journalists and politicians either range from openly disparaging new media to non-stop message pushing,  Nancy Pelosi uses Twitter (Pelosi Tweeted for the first time on May 30, 2010) to announce that she would be running for House Minority Leader. And although that wasn’t exactly an open invitation for engagement it was important…as Rex Hammock notes in his post It’s Okay That Tom Brokaw doesn’t get Twitter: “She didn’t first go out in front of a big bank of microphones to tell “the media” and the TV cameras.  First, she just tweeted it.”

So, this alone should speak volumes in support of Twitter and other social media as real, grown up valid communication channels regardless of the scorn of broadcast journalists and New Yorker writers as well as the Kool-aid drinkers on the opposite side of the spectrum who confuse followers with credentials and quantity with quality. Nancy Pelosi’s announcement was made,  not reported, on Twitter….the news about her announcement was reported everywhere. Why do I think this is significant? Well if I were as talented David Armano, I would draw a 2010 version of the  Ripple of Influence visual to illustrate the “path” that Pelosi’s announcement took.  And although her Tweet was an announcement, not an agenda to be disseminated, it nonetheless rippled across the network.

And the simple choice of Twitter was in such sharp contrast to the midterm election campaign that it followed. My personal experience of this election season was old school…..inundated with direct mail, telephone calls and other media screaming at me from whatever broadcast media I encountered.Mark Glaser at Media Shift has an in depth report of the new media political landscape but from my sample size of one observation,  I thought that the midterm elections were notable for the ways that social media “covered” the elections and got out the vote; but also notable that local candidates made such heavy use of telephoning and robocallers, negative direct mail and the worst negative TV advertising that I can recall in light of the seemingly ubiquitousness  of social networks. Does anyone answer those phone calls? If so, is there anyone who was influenced by a robocall?

So, Social Media 2010 was able to drive participation as defined by voting, not by the quality of conversation. The mega money was still spent on traditional media and except for Pelosi’s announcement on Twitter, most political announcements are still made the old fashioned way…with a microphone. However, hold the presses, it was the Tea Party who invented itself using social channels; even more to the point, the Tea Party used social media to engage a discontented niche into a unified political force.  Hel-looo!!!

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This latest debacle with Anthem Blue Cross began last Thursday when I went to Walgreen’s to pick up a prescription. Walgreen’s ask me if I had a new insurance card because when they tried to put the prescription through the computer informed them that my policy had been terminated in April 2010. I informed them that yes I had a new card but had handed it to the employee when I dropped off the prescription and she had entered it. Well, she said, let’s try that again.

So, as background, at the end of May I switched Anthem policies. The policy that I switched to cost about a $150 per month less than the policy I had, covered more things and included dental. Imagine that! They asked for a payment with the application and I made a second one over the phone in early July. Problem was, I come to find out after standing in Walgreen’s talking to Anthem for over an hour that they didn’t really “take” the first payment (sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t i was told) and the July payment had been posted to a “non-existent” account number. Apparently, their accounting system doesn’t mind taking money for a non-existent account and just leaving it sitting there waiting for the owner of the existent account to claim it. Yeah, I found that a little weird also.

After the notes about the  transaction from July were found (after I had been on the phone with Anthem, mostly on hold, for about 45 minutes) but not the actual funds, I was put on hold while the customer service rep contacted their finance department who needed to find the money itself, transfer it to my account, and reactivate my account. A difficult, complicated task I was told that would take 24 hours. She assured me she was putting “a rush” on it. Indeed.

24 hours later on what was then Friday at 5:40PM, I dialed the Anthem customer service number. There were 2 choices. Press one to pay your bill or press 2 for other issues. I pressed one. The recording announced their business hours, 8-6PM, and then told me that I had called after business hours and to call back during normal hours. Huh? I tried again. Same thing. Third time, I pressed 1 and bingo, they were still open…at least to take money.

I asked the person who answered why the record said that they were closed at 5:40PM. She unashamedly told me that when they were “overloaded” with calls they just turned on the “closed” recording. Except of course for option 1. Always interested in customer service issues, I wondered who had made that policy decision.

I gave Friday’s customer service rep the case number which I had requested the day before.  Even with the case number, the circle jerk started again. Finally, I was told that this was something that took a while. Locating what they had done with my money and re activating my account that they had closed because of their mistake surely wasn’t something that could be easily accomplished. New estimated time for the account to be restored was “maybe Monday.”

Well, I said, it is a good thing that I was only having a prescription filled and now in the ER. She said that in that case, If the hospital checked, I would still receive treatment and then when this was straightened out the bill would be straightened out also. I felt better then,  knowing that if I was in the hospital and the computer said that I did not have health insurance, I would receive the same treatment as if I had health insurance. Well of course I did pay to have health insurance, just no one but me and my credit card company knew that.

On Monday, Walgreen’s assured me that my health insurance was still terminated. I phoned Anthem again and expressed my unhappiness and asked to speak to a supervisor. Well how very lucky, the man on the other end was a supervisor who just happened to be answering the phone because they were busy. So after we went around and around it became apparent that no one had really done anything since they had located the notes left by the person who had taken phone payment on July 2nd and no on was really going to do anything…in other words, I  could call everyday for the rest of my life and be told the same thing that i had been told on Thursday and Friday and that he tried to tell me first go round on Monday…it has been escalated to a rush and been sent to the finance department. After he got the idea that I wasn’t falling for that and actually thought about the fact that he needed to follow up on what was happening in the finance department he promised to dig into it on Tuesday and give me a call back. Then he gave me his direct line…the one that they give you when they mean they are actually going to do something.He wouldn’t answer he said but I could leave a message and he would call me back.

Sure thing, Tuesday morning, bright and early, Jim called and said that it was all straightened out, the policy reinstated, and that he had personally reinstated the RX portion. I thanked him profusely for doing his job and said that I should probably pay for August now so that they didn’t terminate the policy that they had just supposedly reinstated. He told the additional payment, gave me an RX 800 number to give to Walgreen’s in case they had anymore problems and we hung up.

I eagerly calling Walgreen’s to make sure that they put the prescriptions through before I drove up there. Person #1 at Walgreen’s said it was still showing terminated. Oh, joy to the world.I explained what Jim had said and she said that if I gave her Jim’s number she would call him and then call me back. An hour later, no phone call so I called Jim myself and left a message. Jim called back and said that Walgreen’s had not tried to put the charge through or he would be able to see it on his computer.  And the account from his end, was showing active. I said, well maybe they mixed something up. You see my old account at Anthem and my new account both had the same account number. Cost savings no doubt.

So later the same day, I called Walgreen’s and spoke to person #2. He said that account was still not active. I explained the account number the same issue and gave him the new group number which was different from the old one although he said that they never use the group number. But didn’t matter because nothing worked. I gave him Jim’s number and he said he would call him and then call me back. Another few hours go by and still nothing. I call Walgreen’s again and get person #4 who said still no luck but if I gave her Jim’s number she would call him. Another hour, nothing…I call Jim myself and leave a message. I also called Walgreen’s and asked if they had gotten through to Jim.  Person #5 answered and when I explained the situation he put me on hold and said that he was told that I was supposed to call Jim and call them back. Nope I said, I have given Jim’s number to two different Walgreen’s employees today.

Person #5, Mike,  (Yes, made sure i got his name this time) asked for the number again, said he would call Jim and then me back. I left another message for Jim again myself. He had now not returned my last two calls. This was beyond ridiculous.

Well not as beyond as I would find out later in a voice mail message from Mike. Mike’s message said that he had first called Jim and left a message. No return call. He then used the RX 800 number that Jim had given me and that I then gave him. The people at that number said that he needed to call another number. He did and the people at that number said that the account was terminated but that they would send the issue to a special escalation department and guess what? It would take 2-3 days to reinstate my account. My account that I had now given them both the July and August payment for. The one that I had been told on Friday was being escalated for reinstatement. The one that Jim had left me a message just Tuesday morning tell me had been reinstated.

And it was just a few short months ago when I was trying to have another prescription filled at Walgreen’s and Anthem had switched over their Rx administrator to Express Scripts and it caused some sort of “glitch” in their data base (their word) which showed my account as inactive January 2010. The customer representative knew what the problem was the minute I called, yet they had not notified me or Walgreen’s about the “glitch.” It took a week to straighten that out and just like this time, it became my issue to straighten out. They are the only company that I do business with that does not have online bill pay.They don’t even have automated pay by phone. You must have a customer service rep take your information live. I stopped wondering if their technology was just old to wondering if they even used computers.

You just have to feel good knowing that Anthem is a decision maker for your medical needs….I mean they turn off their phones if there are too many annoying customers calling (you do that, right?). They have employees who can take your payment by phone but no technology to advise them that they have entered a non-existent account number or no way to keep track of premiums that are received other than the notes in an individual customer’s account but they are possibly going to make a decision regarding your need for a lung transplant, a mastectomy or maybe just an antibiotic.

An Anthem Facebook page has 34 likes and at least one isn’t wearing clothes. They are not on Twitter, nor is anyone saying too much nice about them. Not surprising….they are not exactly social ready.

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links for 2010-07-17

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links for 2010-07-14

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links for 2010-06-30

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My Bottom Line on the iPhone4: Apple Service

So, today was the big day….big lines, lots of chatter, reviews, comparisons, and complaints. I would post a photo of my IPhone4 but I don’t have one… not yet. Oh, I will get one. Just not today. So I am writing this post not to talk about the lines in St. Louis (Were there lines in St. Louis? Apparently!)  or to ponder the features of the  Sprint HTC EVP 4G or Droid X versus the iPhone4. If the truth be known, I did a little comparison Googling because I am officially free to move around the cabin. My dreaded AT&T contract ended in February and I have a first generation (hanging my head) IPhone that is also no longer covered by Apple Care. And so I am told, no longer supported in any way shape or form by Apple…. shunned even from the latest upgrade, it was only a brief two years ago that this very IPhone was so very cool. Here it is, along with its long time friend and constant companion, Apple Care, on the day I brought them home.

And this brings me to the point of my post. The real reason that I will replace my current iPhone with another iPhone is APPLE SERVICE AND SUPPORT from Apple. So, the eye numbing feature by feature, design by design,  comparisons of the HTC EVO 4G, the Apple iPhone 4, and the Motorola Droid X or the AT&T versus Sprint versus T-Mobile versus Verizon and every other possible permutation offered up recently, left me only with numb eyes and the certainty that there was not a Holy Grail Phone, much less a Holy Grail carrier, data plan, battery etc.

Importantly, I have been an At&T Wireless  customer for the two years that I have owned my IPhone and I am a former customer of Sprint, T-Mobile, and Southwestern Bell/Cingular, the former AT&T wireless though never Verizon,  so I do have an opinion or two about the gang of three. My relationships with Cingular,  Sprint and T-Mobile ended badly. Sprint was a long term relationship that preceded smart phones and ended over customer service issues related to billing, Cingular was simply poor quality everything,  but my experience with owing Blackberrys with T-Mobile  is a better side by side comparison with the iPhone and AT&T.

This is the story: I bought a Blackberry Pearl when I switched to T-Mobile. I didn’t really like it and when the Blackberry Curve became available I actually bought it before my 2 year contract was up and paid the unsubsidized price. The trackball started almost immediately falling out. After popping it back in repeatedly, one day it popped out never to be seen again. In my opinion it was a manufacturing defect that should have been covered by warranty. In T-Mobiles’ opinion it was an issue that not only was not covered by the warranty, they claimed to have never heard of such a thing as a defective trackball “falling out” unless caused by the owner despite what the search engines said.

After argument after argument with countless T-Mobile reps, I finally got a T-Mobile rep to agree to send me a new Curve for $80. I reluctantly agree because $80 was a lot less than the $259 we had started with even though I really only wanted a new trackball. They insisted there was no such thing as trackball replacements. However, when the phone arrived it was the lower cost Blackberry Pearl that I already owned. When I called to complain that they had sent the wrong phone, they insisted that the rep had noted that I had agreed to a Pearl. More arguing and finally the rep’s supervisor called me back and insisted that not only had he written down “Pearl” but that she would NEVER have approved a Pearl for $50 (he had asked me to hold while he confirmed the Curve with his supervisor). I of course countered with the fact that I already owned a working Pearl so I would have never  agreed to pay $50 0r even 50cents for another one…and besides I really don’t like being called a lying phone abuser. Not only was T-Mobile dishonest about the known trackball problem, they were blatantly lying about our agreement. So..I found the email address of someone (can’t remember who) at T-Mobile who I thought might care about this and ended it with if I don’t hear back from you by X date I will cancel my service, pay the termination fee and move on. Whatever that date was came and went without a peep so I terminated and bought the IPhone.

A week or so later, I received a phone call from the “office of” whoever it was that I had sent the email to. You know that voice that says “this call MAY be recorded for training purposes” before you are connected to the “trainee”that never seems to be recorded in your favor?  Well, this time it was, and T-Mobile apologized and happily informed me that the recording had substantiated my email and that the rep had indeed agreed to send me a Curve for $80. Yes, I know I said..I was on the call. So, they would now in fact be willing to honor that agreement for me to pay $80 for a new Curve and they had already waived the termination fee. Thanks for the fee waive but no thanks on the $80 for the phone replacement that I felt should have been replaced for free to begin with and really, a free replacement would have been in order for nothing more than being lied to by several of your reps…or at least that was what I thought.

The contrast with the iPhone and Apple Care? Well, Apple Care does not involve AT&T. And the iPhone that I have today is not actually the same iPhone in my photo. I have had 3 iPhone replacements over the 2 years….one was even a crack in the glass in week 1…in their opinion, it is possible that the glass can be defective.  And because we own MacBooks, a MacBook Pro, iPods and an iMac I have spent a lot of time at the Genius bar with various issues and I have had various replacements handled with the utmost respect and integrity. I have also observed many other customers being treated in exactly the same manner. And sure, the $69 that I will pay for Apple Care makes the price of the iPhone $268, not $199 but it is so worth it.

And although the T-Mobile issue was extreme, my experience with Cingular and AT&T with non-iPhone issues tell me iPhone service and support involved them would be quite different than it is with Apple. And remember the Blackberry Pearl that I didn’t like…well I gave it to my son to finish his part of the T-Mobile contract with and over the course of the next year and a half the trackball fell out of that one. Rather than go round and round with T-Mobile I found a replacement trackball on Ebay for $3.00 which was fine…the back panel fell off and was lost and $Ebay had those for $13.

Sure I love every Apple computer that we own and can’t imagine buying any other computer.  I am not even close to being able to say that about the iPhone. I can only say that the replacement for my current iPhone will be an iPhone. After that, we will see. I know that the iPhone is not perfect…..and the most imperfect thing about it is the phone. See Robert Scoble’s post if you want to go there.  That’s not a  small thing. However, at the end of the day, Apple service trumps anything offered by any of the phone companies…and for me that makes the case. I know when I call Apple that the person I am speaking with will answer my question or get it answered and the Geniuses are Geniuses regardless of which Apple product is problematic.Best Buy Geek Squad? Puh-leeze!

So, service and support; that’s my answer in 3 words…the rest of this post is optional.

Oh and it was much more fun at the Apple Store when Kameron worked there.

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